Monday, January 23, 2006

Podcast Update

Just a little note: You don't need to visit my podcast website to access my podcast anymore. Simply subscribe to it via iTunes. Go to Music Store >> Podcasts >> Search for "Goat Curry"

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I agree with HM's comment on my previous post. She writes about having "a bigger tendency to trust apparent allies than wellknown enemies". That's a basic human trait which I can't deny.

This is what I've gathered from some reading I've done:

From a BBC Article: Its (The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty or NPT) aim was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five "declared" nuclear armed powers: Britain, France, China, the United States and the then Soviet Union...

...The US is investigating new types of nuclear weapons to attack deeply-buried targets; China is busy modernising its nuclear arsenal to make it more mobile; and Russia and China have both altered their nuclear doctrines in ways which might make the use of nuclear arms more likely.

From The Guardian: France is obliged, under the same treaty (NPT), to make progress towards disarmament. But like Britain, now considering replacing the Trident system, it shows no sign of moving to a posture of minimum deterrence, let alone disarming completely.

As a signatory of the NPT, Iran is entitled to the right to carry out a peaceful nuclear program. It has allowed frequent compliance inspections, implying transparency on their part.

Furthermore, Iran has not made a big fuss despite the US exploring other nuclear capabilites. Neither has it raised an issue with France who reportedly have 350 nuclear warheads (refer to this). With regards to 'wiping Israel of the map', note that Israel themselves have acquired nuclear arms along with India and Pakistan and are not signatories of the NPT.

When the West says that Iran "poses a threat to international security" do they not mean just posing a threat to their own security -specifically North America and Europe? Would an Iranian not say the same thing with regards to the nuclear proliferation efforts and the failure to disarm by the countries mentioned above?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Isn't It Weird

Today's headlines on Guardian Unlimited read:

"New reactors to be fast tracked" :referring to the pressing need for the UK to develop alternative energy sources i.e. building more nuclear reactors.


"Iran moves assets out of Europe" :referring to the country's response to potential economic sanctions as the conflict over its nuclear energy program is referred to the UN Security Council next month.

If that's not an obvious display of the double standards Western politicians have, I don't know what is.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Check Out My Podcast

The post below is a feature story I've just written on Tash Aw, winner of the 2005 Whitbread Award for Best First Novel.

Check out a podcast of the interview as well. Click here.

Tropical Gardens And Roots

I must admit that writing a story about a writer, albeit a critically-acclaimed one, felt rather daunting. Like any other conscientious student writer, I’d done my homework the night before. Thanks to the wonders of Google and online news archives, I knew beforehand that he had read law at Cambridge before coming to London to work in a law firm. I knew that he quit his job one day and took a one-year creative writing course at the University of East Anglia. I knew he was a Chinese-Malaysian, lived in Islington and I knew he had a banana tree in his garden.

The Harmony Silk Factory, described in one review as being ‘woven like fine silk’, was long listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and had won the 2005 Whitbread Book Award for Best First Novel earlier this month. Tash’s promising first novel tells the story of Johnny Lim, an infamous Chinaman – salesman, fraudster, possibly a murderer, through the eyes of his disaffected son Jasper, his deceased wife Snow and his flamboyant British friend Peter Wormwood. The novel is set during the 1930s and 40s, with undertones of a second world war and a Japanese occupation looming in the background.

Citing the 30s to be the heyday of British colonial rule and the 40s as the end of it, Tash felt that many novels written about that period were somewhat stereotyped and hackneyed. So he seeked to reinvent the South East Asian war novel. “I just wanted to take that period and do something different to it. Make it a bit of a thriller, a ghost story, a confession,” he says.

Tash is a big fan of seeing things from alternative vantage points. His book seems to lead you on predictably before making a swift change in direction when you least expect it. At the end of the story, you’ll be left to make up your own mind about what kind of man Johnny Lim really was.

“I’ve always liked places which don’t have immediate appeal, where you have to look slightly harder to find beauty,” he says. Painting the scene of his novel in Kinta Valley is proof of this personality trait. Located in the Western part of Malaysia, the former tin mining hot spot is hardly a famous tourist attraction these days and is not even well known among many Malaysians. In a self-written piece titled Shortbread, he confesses to having a love for things taken out of context such as a contemporary painting in a maiden aunt’s sitting room or a tin of shortbread biscuits (hence the title) in a Malaysian kitchen.

I ask about his curious garden –is it true about the banana tree? He sounds passionate when he tells me about the banana trees (one is really big while the other will soon catch up by the end of this summer), the stalks of bamboo and the palm which he wraps up in horticultural fleece during winter. “All winter I battle, ridiculously, to keep them alive, brushing snow off their leaves…even when the plants are being lashed by hailstorms I find it more exciting than alarming to see them clinging desperately to life,” he declares rather bizarrely in Shortbread.

Tash juggled his job in the City and his writing work simultaneously for four years. “It was good because it’s only then that you realise if that’s what you want to do. It was really, really tough, but it tests your resolve. Writing was what made me the happiest. It just felt the most important,” he says. He managed this dual lawyer-by-day-writer-by-night lifestyle with great difficulty and knew that at some point he would need to take some time off if he really wanted to finish his novel. So one day, Tash left his job and went back to school at the UEA. He planned to go back to law after a year and merely hoped that a small publisher would agree to print his book once it was done. As luck would have it, things turned out differently from what he had expected and he has stuck at his writer job till today.

“I didn’t think I would actually become a writer. I always wanted to be a writer,” he says, “but it was kind of like wanting to be a fireman..” During university, Tash was told that being a barister was the most obvious career choice, given his personality. “Over the years I’ve been given some spectacularly bad career advice…after reaching my age (he’s 33), I just think that anyone who knows me can tell that being a barister would be the worst thing possible for me.”

At another stage of his life it was suggested that he had the makings of a good accountant. “Even at that time, I could hardly add up. I’m really just stunningly bad at math. I think it wsas given on the basis of me being a Chinese and all Chinese are (supposedly) good at math…for anyone, it will take time to figure out what is the best job for you.”

He’s lived in the UK for about 15 years and admits that he stays mainly out of habit as he has gotten used to living in one of the most ‘expensive, frustrating, annoying and tiring cities in the world’. “I can’t imagine moving anywhere else…there’s just something about the mixture, the variety, the diversity and the size of London which a lot of people find very creative. And also since I’ve lived here for so long, all my friends are here…and home is where friends are.”
Having said all that, he claims to be extremely patriotic and proud of his roots. THSF is set in Kinta Valley partly because it was where he spent his chilldhood holidays. “Even if I live here (London) till my dying day…I’ll always say that I’m from Malaysia. That’s not the same as home is. Home is…where your friends are. And if all your support system is in London, I guess that’s what you have to say. But it doesn’t mean your roots lie elsewhere.”

Despite all the adoration which he’s been rained upon since he made it big, he is no stranger to accusations from those who question where his cultural allegiances lie. “One of the most annoying things people have said about me is that I’m a foreign writer exploiting my roots and I’m not really Malaysian anymore -that’s just stupid and wrong.” I note that he’s extremely cautious when it comes to threading around this form of critism. As I leave the premises later on, I overhear him telling Heather (his accountant) about wanting to wear the baju Melayu, traditional formalwear for men in Malaysia, to the upcoming Whitbread Awards ceremony. He reveals some hesitation due to his reluctance of being pigeon-holed as yet another ‘token ethnic’.

Tash argues that the point about migration and immigration is never about the exploitation of roots. “You can’t get away from them, you can never forget them. You can move away physically, but emotionally and culturally -everything is still tied to those roots. And surely the fact that I write about them is because they’re so important to me.It’s not because I wanted to make a quick buck. If those were my intentions, I would have stayed in law,” he argues.

The 2005 Whitbread Book of the Year will be announced on the 24th of January. THSF is up against four other works for the £25,000 reward. Despite my pre-interview jitters, things actually turned out quite well. Tash’s easy-going and down to earth manner put my rattled nerves at ease. I’ve always thought that writers, along with anyone remotely involved in the arts or literary scene, would either be slightly kooky; too intellectual for plebeian comprehension; or in a worse-case scenario, raving mad. Think: Woody Allen, Salman Rushdie and George Galloway, in that order. Tash Aw was definitely very far from being the romanticised, tortured literary genius that I imagined him to be. Genius? Yes. Eccentric? Apart from his tropical garden, absolutely not.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Acting Cool

I don't think I've decided to be anti-Cameron just yet. But this article about him trying to appeal to a younger crowd is quite funny.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I'm Always Stumped When It Comes To Post Titles

The idea of parenting academies (social workers are trained in parenting skills) and parenting classes (£30 a week incentive for teenage parents to attend parenting classes) proposed by Tony Blair as part of his respect agenda seems pretty crazy.

Gordon Brown wrote yesterday that efforts made last year to Make Poverty History were only "the start of something -not the end".

"A century ago people talked of "What we could do to Africa". Last century, it was "What can we do for Africa?". Now, in 2006, we must ask what the developing world, empowered, can do for itself."

David Cameron's succesful accession as Conservative top gun has brought with it some threat to Mr Brown's potential taking-over of Downing Street.

Besides his recent respect campaign, Mr Blair has also been working on a whole lot of reforms: self-governing of state schools, more privatisation in the health sector, a better pension scheme (possibly) and more nuclear generators (possibly). It's been said that he's doing all this to ensure he leaves a legacy when he steps down as PM. Mr Brown, on the other hand, has been a real crusader for the Make Poverty History campaign.

It's also been said that Mr Cameron seem's a likelier candidate for the PM's seat than his rival the Chancellor. This dude is a total publicity whore.

He openly whacks Blair in Prime Minister's Questions (In December, he told Tony Blair, "You were the future once."); he makes a highly publicised new year's resolution to quit smoking;he openly whacks Brown in a Times interview; and he gets Bob Geldof on the Tory bandwagon to help out with their poverty agenda (Mr Geldof apparently did not get along with ex-Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher due to disagreements over BandAid).

Cameron vs Blair? I don't know enough about UK politics to be able to decide.

Cameron vs Brown? ditto.

Brown vs Geldof? A bunch of entertainers gyrating on stage one summer's day is not going to help Africa much. Sure, you're creating awareness about Africa. But everyone knows that the region is poverty striken already. It's like you're singing a bunch of songs stating the obvious.

In terms of long term aid, Brown definitely wins hands down. Africa does not need more money and in terms of debt relief, I hardly think that is the priority. What is needed, or rather not needed is corruption. African governments are by far the most corrupt bunch of states in the world and dictatorships abound in that region. It's one thing to give them money, but if its going to finance more guns instead of butter, why bother?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Greener Pastures

Someone said the other day that the state of affairs that Malaysia was in made her want to migrate. The prospect of living somewhere else, presumably some developed white man's land seemed pretty attractive to her.

We seem to have this inferiority complex and think that we're the only country in the world with problems.

The UK has problems of its own:

North Sea Oil reserves are running out and Russia's having a tiff with Ukraine about oil (there's a Russian oil pipeline supplying the UK which runs through Ukraine), so if the UK doesn't build a bunch of nuclear plants soon (even the proposal of these have been met with public outrage thanks to strong environmentalist culture), it's going to have a major energy crisis at hand. The NHS is still having problems with long waiting lines and inefficient, underperforming hospitals. Since the £3,000 per annum university fee was imposed, university applications have fallen. And if you thought Rafidah crying and hugging Dr M was a big laugh, don't you think its a bigger joke to see politician George Galloway taking part in Celebrity Big Brother along with Dennis Rodman and a professional Paris Hilton look-alike.

In the US:

It is implied that racial discrimination caused the un-speedy aid received by those struck by Hurricane Katrina. Promises of social security reform have yet to materialise. Its political system is increasingly perverted and corrupted by lax campaign finance laws. Its inner cities are crime ridden and gun laws are practically non-existent.

I've got no problems with migration. You can go anywhere you want to live -that's fine with me. But is it safe to say that some people (this is not a generalisation) who migrate elsewhere are potentially happier because they block out problems in their original country (since they have given up citizenship there, it should no longer concern them) or because they take a wholly apolitical outlook in their newly found home?

Is it possible that the issues that irk you the most are the ones which happen where your roots lie and which concern matters that are closest to your heart.
Don't Want No Specialists

Another interesting bit of information:

Thomas Friedman likens journalism to hedge fund management.

He discovered that his best intellectual sources do not come from academia or diplomats but from hedge fund managers who “tend to be extremely well informed about global affairs and have a natural ability and willingness to arbitrage and interpolate information...before drawing their conclusions.”

The only difference between a hedge fund manager and himself was that at the end of the day, the former made a bet on a stock or bond and the latter wrote an opinion on some aspect of international relations.

So to write as well as Friedman does, you've got to be well-versed and able to see the world through many different dimensions: Politics, culture, balance of power (arms control, superpower competition, Cold War allaince management, power geopolitics), financial markets, technology and enviromentalism.
Back to School

OK so I didn't get to do the revision that I planned to during my Christmas holidays. But I finally finished ploughing through the globalisation book which I've mentioned millions of times on this blog.

The book contains a whole lot of interesting ideas and stories. Here's something I didn't know:

Ramzi Yousef masterminded the World Trade Center bombing in New York, which killed six people and injured more than a thousand on Ferbruary 26, 1993. He just wanted to blow up the two tallest buildings in America. He told the Federal District Court in Manhattan that his goal was to set off an explosion that would cause one World Trade Center tower to fall onto the other and kill 250,000 civilians.

Note that the book was first published in 1999, before 9/11 even happened.

Interestingly, someone I had dinner with recently told me that the whole crashing a plane into the WTC thing was mentioned in a Tom Clancy book which was written prior to 9/11.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Laughing & Crying

This is the funniest thing I've seen online. Some of you may not get it. But try anyway.

I absolutely love this song. Click here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Whitbread Literary Awards

Tash Aw, or rather Aw Ta-Shii, has just won the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel. He's this Malaysian dude (from KL) who read law at Cambridge and practiced for a while but left his job to pursue a writing career. The Harmony Silk Factory and other Whitbread Winners: Click here.

Whitbread Awards are given out in appreciation of literary works which are enjoyable reads rather than the difficult artsy-fartsy prose which the Booker Prize recognizes.

I was talking to a friend of mine this summer who'd read the book, and he said it wasn't bad so maybe I'll have a shot at it sometime soon. I particularly remember said friend proudly adding that the book also mentioned Pahang, where said friend was from.

I thought it would be really good to get an interview with him so I've emailed my editor at LSE to check if they might want to run the story. Fingers crossed.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sweating over Kimchi & Other Matters

I had Korean with some friends the other day, there's this place called The Polo near Centrepoint at the end of Tottenham Court Road which has super spicy kimchi.

Someone had just arrived from KL and we started talking about some issues from back home. Things are best summed up in this International Herald Tribune article.

There are a lot of things which could be improved on in Malaysia. Just like any other country in the world, we have problems. To give credit when it's due, we are still a relatively young nation with a population so diverse that its hard to make compromises sometimes.

Here's another Thomas Friedman excerpt:

"I was having dinner with Wimar Witoelar, a popular Jakarta talk-show host, who was describing for me the young generation of the Indonesian middle class. He remarked that what many of these educated twenty- and thirty- year olds had in common was that they wanted to get rich, without having to be corrupt, and they wanted democracy, but they didn't want to go in the streets and fight for it. This generation of Indonesians understood that under Suharto there would never be a democratic revolution from below, because if the urban poor revolted it would mean a year of living dangerously all over again."

"So their whole strategy was revolution from beyond, or globalution. By integrating Indonesia into the global system via the World Trade Organisation, Pizza Hut, APEC, ASEAN, Merrill Lynch, PWC, they might be able to import standards and rules-based systems that would not have be present in the country otherwise." (this bit has been para-phrased)

"Indonesian military analyst Juwono Sudarsono described globalution to me as meaning that 'the global market will forve upon us business practices and disciplines that we cannot generate internally."

"Another Indonesian reformer expressed it more simply. He told me that he and his son got their revenge on Suharto once a week 'by eating at McDonald's'."

On another note, I finally managed to check out the infamous 'Police Abuse Ear Squats' on the Malaysiakini site. Check out the 'Keluar Dari Malaysia' one too.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fat Bishops

My crazy dad sent me this photo -thanks, pa. That's my dog, Muffin.

Concerning the title: There's an article about the new year resolutions of England's spiritual leaders -most of them want to lose weight.

Newly elected Tory leader, David Cameron plans to quit smoking this year. He reportedly smokes 15 cigs a day. Maybe by making his resolution so public (he's going to report back to The Times over the next 5 weeks), he's going to be able to finally kick the habit. A sceptical point of view however, is that this may just be a political ploy to gain even more publicity and further elevate public approval amidst anti-smoking efforts being carried out such as this and this.